The first step is admitting it. The next step is never, ever letting any grad school know that this is kind of how I process silent cinema. Kind of. A little bit. Okay, a lot.
To be fair, it’s not as though I’ve ever gotten much guidance on Josef von Sternberg, from which all these The Docks of New York images are taken. The best summation of his cinematic universe I’ve heard is that he doesn’t shoot, he shoots through. The smoke and fog are kind of incredible in this film, as are the backgrounds. He animates the frame with extras, seagulls (!), even just placing netting in the foreground to give his worlds a very physical, tactile texture; then he lures you into this tangible place and lulls you into a kind of slackjawed ensorcellment through super smooth camera movement and seamless editing. Of course this guy partnered with Marlene Dietrich for a bazillion movies because his style, even though I can identity tricks and devices within it, is inexplicably seductive. I can’t even deal with it. It’s detailed but not fussy. It’s mesmerizing technically in a way that makes you forget about form. It’s a flighty creature of light and shadow that creates its own stylistic gravity/logic to a visual universe.
It’s completely unfair. Ugh. See, now I need to go listen to more Taylor Swift. It’s a vicious circle.